The Golf Buddha – Yoga For Golfers
The Golf Buddha – Yoga For Golf: Golfers Elbow
Yoga For Golfer’s Elbow – The Golf Buddha
Golf shares with tennis the dubious distinction of being a sport with a specific injury named for itself. This is obviously due to the high prevalence of Golfer’s Elbow amongst golfers and the relatively low occurrence in the rest of the population. Here we try to understand what Golfer’s elbow is, what are the causes, and how yoga for golf can potentially prevent the condition, or help you to deal with it when it arises.
What is Golfer’s Elbow and Why does it happen?
Golfer’s Elbow, or “medial epicondylitis” is an inflammation of the tendon sheath that attaches to the humerus, at the point it meets the inside of the forearm. Several of the muscles used for flexing the fingers, flexing the wrist and pronating the hand (turning it palm downwards it the elbows are held to the sides) attach here. Because of the several structures meeting at this sheath, it is prone to inflammation for a variety of reasons, sometimes occurring with no apparent cause!
While golf is a common cause, for reasons we will look at presently, Golfer’s elbow is also prevalent in throwers, baseball pitchers, rock climbers and in various forms of manual labor including gardening.
In the course of the golf swing, the tendon sheath that is vulnerable to this condition is subjected to stress. The tight grip on the club, combined with the torsion of the wrist and the force of impact during the swing itself contribute to the prevalence of Golfer’s Elbow in the sport.
It is worth noting that symptoms often come on gradually, and it is normal for sufferers to continue to play for several weeks with the condition active, making it exponentially worse. This can increase recovery times and also increase the levels of pain quite rapidly.
One theory on the cellular cause of medial epicondylitis is that it stems from the death of cells in the area, which makes the muscles supporting the sheath weaker and even more prone to injury. This will then injure further if used in this state, causing more cell death. (1) In short, the longer one continues to play while suffering, the greater the problems. This also means that taking preventative measures in terms of stretching and strengthening the area is by far a better option than taking action once the pain starts.
Taking Preventative Action : Golfer’s Elbow
Given the fact that prevention is better than cure, this is where we will begin. If you are already suffering, this is still potentially useful information and much of it can be used to speed recovery.
The key factors in preventing the onset of Golfers’ Elbow are as follows:
- Developing strength in the muscles surrounding the elbow, especially the wrist and finger flexors.
- Developing flexibility in the same muscles.
- Ensuring good bloodflow to the area around the elbow.
- Working on sound biomechanics in life, yoga for golfers to minimise risk.
- Being aware of the onset of a problem and reacting mindfully.
First and foremost, if golf is your primary leisure and fitness activity, it is absolutely necessary to strengthen and stretch the muscles you regularly use during your play. This means the lower back, the hips, the shoulders and, as we see here, the forearms and wrists.
Ensuring good bloodflow mostly comes down to good mechanics in the affected (or potentially affected) areas, which we will come to shortly. Other than this, many yoga poses involve temporarily restricting bloodflow to an area, then releasing to allow blood to ‘flush’ the area. Massage (including self-massage), soft tissue work, and regular gentle exercise can all be helpful here.
If you sit with poor posture at a desk, with the wrists in an uncomfortable position this can predispose you to issues with the forearms and wrists. Likewise, if you do manual work of any kind, this can impact your chances of developing Golfer’s Elbow. Performing your regular daily tasks with sound mechanics can significantly decrease your risks. This is part of the practice of mindfulness; being aware of your body in everyday activities and asking, “Is this good for me? Am I maintaining my precious body in the best ways I possibly can?”
Finally, we already discussed the fact that many people attempt to play through elbow pain and make things much worse very quickly. It is better to take a few weeks off and invest time in other areas of your life rather than irritate this problem. After all, three weeks of rest and attention could save you months of rehab work!
Yoga Poses for Prevention : Yoga For Golfers
Here are a few poses to work on to help prevent Golfer’s Elbow. If you are already suffering, you can try any of these, but if anything hurts, it should be avoided until it no longer causes pain.
Chaturanga Dandasana (four-legged staff pose/push-up) – This may seem strange to some people. After all, chaturanga probably gets the blame for more shoulder and elbow pains than any other pose. However, a 2009 study from the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma showed that eccentric loading can be a powerful tool in fighting inflammation.(2)
This means that while active contraction (like doing a push-up) can harm an already-damaged elbow, resisting powerfully during the lowering phase (coming down from plank with control) can actually help with the healing of Golfer’s Elbow. As such, perform chaturanga by assuming your plank/push-up position and taking three full seconds to lower to the floor, bringing the knees down if necessary to keep your body in a straight line.
Reverse Namaskara (Reverse Prayer) – This is technically a mudra or gesture rather than a pose. Bring both hands behind the back and try to press the palms together, either with the fingers pointing up or down. If this is too difficult, press the knuckles of the fists together. From here, experiment with pushing the hands into each other and bringing the hands higher or lower on the back. This will stretch and strengthen several of the muscles in the forearms related to this condition.
Prasarita Padottanasana C (Wide-legged forward fold) – Bring the legs about five feet apart with the toes pointing either straight forward or turned slightly inwards. Take the arms behind the buttocks and clasp the hands together into a single fist. Continuing to press the hands together, keep the legs straight and fold the body forwards. Try to let the spine relax and ‘dangle’ here, but keep pushing the hands over and forwards. Imagine one day pressing the top of the head and the clasped hands both into the floor in front of you.
Garudasana (Eagle Pose) – Eagle pose is a wonderful pose to work your adductors (inner thighs) while stretching the shoulders, arms and wrists and also working on balance. In a word, it is perfect for golfers! Stand with feet apart and bend both knees as if sitting in a chair. Lift the right leg up and cross it over the left. Cross as high on the thighs as possible and press them together. If possible, work the right foot all the way around the left calf, but if it doesn’t get there just keep pressing the legs together. Lift the arms up to parallel in front of you, with palms facing down. Then, with the arms straight, cross them with the right arm underneath, making an ‘X’ in front of your chest. Press the arms into each other and bend the elbows so that both sets of fingers point towards the ceiling. This should wrap the arms around each other. If you can cross the forearms and press the palms together then do so. Otherwise, continue to press the arms together and work the hands towards each other.
In this pose, try to keep the elbows at the level of the shoulders and press the hands away from the face, feeling the stretch in the arms and shoulders.
Dolphin/Dog Dips – As the name suggests, this is not a classic Yoga pose, but it can be useful in stretching the shoulders and strengthening the forearms while working the muscles around the elbows. Set up in a forearm plank, with the elbows planted under the shoulders, the palms pressed into the floor out in front of you, again shoulder width apart. Make sure the body is in a straight line behind the hands with the toes curled under on the floor. From here, push back to that the hips go up into the air. You may have to move the feet slightly closer to the elbows. From here, you can either stay, occasionally moving forwards to plank and back or you can press the hands into the floor and lift yourself to a full Downward Facing Dog. This second option is very challenging but well worth investing time in practicing, as long as there is no pain.
The Yoga for Golfers Elbow ‘Silver Bullet’
Please note that the following does not constitute medical advice. It is entirely the product of observation and experience and should be applied with caution and at your own risk. Consult your physician if you are under their care for any issues before attempting this.
There is one pose which both stretches the affected area concerned with Golfer’s Elbow and strengthens it in this stretched position. As a result, it can be a highly effective pose for helping to prevent Golfer’s Elbow and can even be used as part of working on it. It can also improve bloodflow to the affected area and therefore help to manage inflammation.
The pose is Salabasana, or Locust Pose. There are many versions of this pose, but the one (actually two) I propose for sufferers or prospective sufferers of epicondylitis is the version with the hands under the body. I wish to emphasise that while this pose can be uncomfortable, if it causes pain in the elbows, it should be discontinued immediately. Other measures should then be used instead.
Lay down on the belly, with the hands on the floor, palms facing down. Rock the hips up and slide the arms under the body, keeping the palms facing down. Try to touch the pinkie fingers underneath the body. This will result in the hip bones pressing into the back of the forearms. The head can be relaxed with the forehead or chin on the floor or mat, whatever is more comfortable. From here, relax the left leg and lift the right to forty-five degrees or as high as possible. Hold for several breaths, then change sides. If this is easy, you can press the legs together and lift both as high as possible. Make sure there is no tension in the neck if you do this though. In both variations, the palms should be actively pressed into the floor.
If this is too uncomfortable, try the same pose with the hands bunched into a single fist, which will sit between the thighs (depending on the length of your arms). If this is still uncomfortable, try one of the other approaches in this article!
I have heard of people experiencing relief from just a few days of practicing this pose so I encourage attempting it, providing there is no pain at any point.
Yoga For Golf Poses To Avoid or Modify During Treatment and Recovery
Any poses in which the elbow is straight with the bodyweight resting on or through it may cause pain in cases of Golfer’s Elbow. These include Downward Facing Dog, Upward Facing Dog, Plank, Side Plank, Camel Pose and dozens of others. Frankly, common sense applies here. Avoid anything that hurts until it no longer does. You can also experiment with softening the elbows slightly in these postures, though this can also result in more muscle fatigue.
Golfer’s Elbow is best dealt with before it happens. So if you are an avid golfer, start incorporating a few of the yoga for golfers postures and strategies here immediately. If you are already suffering from pain, try carefully introducing poses, paying close attention to your body. With these kinds of injuries, the most important thing is to always listen to your body. It may sound like a cliché, but being mindful of any pain and discomfort and dealing with it up front can prevent a slower and more irritating process of healing down the line.
It’s always important to remember that both golf and yoga should be positive experiences in our lives. If there is pain, it is a message from our bodies that we are not enjoying them in the best way possible. So stop, take a breath, and listen to yourself. Yoga for golf is a great way to build self awareness and help you listen to your body to maximize your output on the course.
- Chen, J.“In chronic lateral epicondylitis, apoptosis and autophagic cell death occur in the extensor carpi radialis brevis tendon.”. PubMed.
- Tyler TF, Nicholas SJ, Schmitt BM, Mullaney M, Hogan DE. CLINICAL OUTCOMES OF THE ADDITION OF ECCENTRICS FOR REHABILITATION OF PREVIOUSLY FAILED TREATMENTS OF GOLFERS ELBOW.International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy. 2014;9(3):365-370.
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